One of the most glaring and surprising consistencies I've seen among entry level actuarial candidates, even some with actuarial degrees, is that they generally have no clue what actuaries do and have an even worse understanding of the business of insurance. If you're able to speak confidently and intelligently about actuarial and insurance topics, you can hack the system by redirecting the attention from your lack of experience on paper and making a stronger impression than more experienced candidates.
Candidates that have impressed me are those that demonstrate a higher level of understanding of the business and how actuaries impact the bottom line. Hiring managers' expectations for the level of depth of this understanding will vary based on the experience of the candidate. Someone with no internship experience will perhaps be given more slack than someone who has some experience. But there is a basic level of knowledge that is expected for all candidates.
Let's first look at some specific examples of interview flubs I've seen that could have been easily avoided:
- Not knowing what industry the company primarily operates in. A common issue in P&C interviews, since much of the actuarial education centers on the SOA side, is that candidates do not acknowledge or understand the difference between the two industries.
- Having a tenuous grasp of the insurance business as a whole. Especially for candidates with actuarial degrees, hiring managers expect a basic to intermediate understanding of how insurance operates.
- Misunderstanding different actuarial roles on a basic level. You should at very least know the general difference between a reserving actuary and pricing actuary, and how each impacts the bottom line. Bonus points if you have some exposure to nontraditional roles (i.e. know that they exist).
This deficiency presents an opportunity to separate yourself from the common candidate. Think of it as a small investment with a high ROI, which is exactly the type of investment of your time that you should be seeking during your job search.
To grow in this department quickly and effectively, start by investing an hour a week in the following four steps. Start small so you don't make excuses. Even ten minutes per week will be better than zero and will help to build the routine. Then increase the time spent on this activity as time permits.
- Use free actuarial literature online to learn more about the technical side of the profession.
- Keep up to date on issues impacting the industry.
- Take notes by writing a list of questions you have for each piece you read.
- Discuss the topics with and ask questions to the actuaries in your network.
For step one, actuarial papers are a great place to start. Check out the SOA and CAS exam resources. At least on the CAS side, many resources are free. Two that I always recommend are the CAS Exam 5 papers on Ratemaking and Reserving, which I'll also add to the resources on the sidebar.
To keep up to date on industry news, follow insurance specific online journals, such as the Insurance Journal or PropertyCasualty360 for the P&C industry, or the SOA's The Actuary Magazine for the Health and Life industry. Follow discussions on the Actuarial Outpost and consider participating in conversations to reinforce your understanding.
Reading about topics that you only understand at a surface level will not be productive in itself. To internalize the material and learn effectively, write a list of questions from each article or publication you read, and then spend time finding the answers either by searching around or discussing with actuaries in the network you've built through targeted emailing. As you begin to repeat this cycle of reading, reinforcing, asking questions, and getting answers, you will find yourself growing very rapidly. For instance, you might be on a phone call with an actuary who brings up a topic you've read up on and created a list of questions about, and you'll be able to respond intelligently by asking a thoughtful question and taking the conversation a bit deeper each time.
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